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Bill James Handbook Excerpt: The Manager and the Jeopardy Champ

By MARK SIMON

This essay is featured in The Bill James Handbook 2022, which is available now from ACTASports.com. The Handbook features 640 pages of essays, stats, leaderboards, and much more. Buy it today!

As a fan of the TV show Jeopardy, I’ve greatly enjoyed the recent run of dominance by one of the game’s all-time best players, Matt Amodio (whose hobby happens to be studying baseball stats).

What made Amodio so impressive was not just his knowledge base, but in how he managed a game. He played aggressively, picked the bottom clues first,  hunted down Daily Doubles, and then made big wagers on them. He bet on himself and his team (his brain cells) to come through as needed.

In the 2021 baseball season, the game manager most similar to Amodio was Gabe Kapler of the Giants.

Kapler has come a long way from his two rough seasons with the Phillies. In two seasons with the Giants he’s changed things up a little bit and maxed out on what he’s gotten from his team.

The Giants have led the majors in pinch-hitter usage in each of the last two seasons by a considerable margin and in 2021, they finished with 68 more than the next-closest team.

And Kapler made big bets on his entire bench this year. Seven different players had at least 20 pinch-hit at-bats. The Giants also led the NL in defensive substitutions with 48.

But Kapler took it a step further. He and his coaching staff established in-game platoons that were meant to go beyond one moment in a game. The Giants had 116 substitutes (including relievers) enter a game this season and record at least two plate appearances. No other team had more than 90.

Kapler’s other version of managing aggressively was in the composition and use of his bullpen, a mix of lefties, righties, and unusual arm angles (Tyler Rogers). The Giants used relievers on consecutive days 146 times, more than any other team. And those pitchers were great! They had an MLB-low 1.48 ERA in those situations.

Amodio’s strategy was a winning one and had considerable staying power. Kapler’s had enough staying power to get through 2021 with 107 wins for the Giants. Whether it will work for the long term will be a greater challenge.